Monthly Wildscape Workday

by Catherine Johnson

Photos by Patricia Coombs

Much was accomplished at our monthly workday.

Patricia, Donna, Cindy, Pamela, and Alan’s guest weeded the shade garden while Neal expanded the section he is in charge of.

Pamela, Donna and Patricia take a break.

Phyllis and Ellen planted new Milkweed, Liatris and Wild Bergamot.

Catherine, Ellen, and Phyllis have fun with the water hose.

Alan and Gene cleared excess Asters.

Clearing asters takes strength

Everyone took home native plants from the Wildscape.

Cindy sits down on the job, which actually makes weeding easier!

The best part was visiting with friends.

Celebrating Our Graduates!

by Sue Ann Kendall

Photos by Sue Ann Kendall and Debbi Harris

Wednesday night was very festive for the El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist chapter. We celebrated the five new graduates from our training program with a delicious meal and a lovely presentation at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Cameron, where we also have our monthly meetings. We are grateful to Fr. Jeff and his staff for being such gracious hosts.

Father Jeff and our graduates.

Our food was catered by Hot Corners, the company that is located in the beautiful Venue at Railfan that recently opened in town. Barbara Dominguez does a wonderful job, and we were glad to see our vegetarian attendees had many options. Next time we’ll remember to ask for a gluten-free main course!

The appetizers included one of Barbara’s famous charcuterie boards, along with wine and some pretty darned good non-alcoholic wine beverage that was fun to try!

MMM, charcuterie

Desserts were provided by Alan Rudd, who was also our assistant trainer this year. It was hard to choose which one to try, so many people tasted more than one.

The fellowship and conversation were fantastic, and everyone had a good time at the meal, and an even better time during the awards.

First, Dorothy Mayer read her famous poem she wrote when she was graduating, which always brings a laugh.

Dorothy shares the story of her poem.

Then came the highlight of the evening. Patricia Coombs, Brenda Ferris, Ellen Luckey, Michelle Pierce, and Neil Wettstein were each presented with their graduation certificates, and two others received their first dragonfly pins for their initial certification as well. Great job, everyone!

Following the student awards, Alan Rudd presented Kathy Lester, our lead trainer for the past three classes, with a beautiful painting of a sunrise or sunset (you get to pick) with kind words on the back of it from past students. Kathy was surprised and delighted by her gift, which is obvious in the photos!

Kudos to the team who put together the party and decorated the room so nicely. It takes a lot of work to organize all our activities, and we appreciate our dedicated members very much. Now, let’s get going on the City Nature Challenge!

Here are a couple of funny out-takes from the party. We did have fun.

Master Naturalists Plant Trees on Earth Day

By Carolyn Henderson

The El Camino Real chapter planted native trees in three Cameron parks on Earth Day, then removed some invasive species that they “girdled” last year. Twelve members and a couple of family volunteers planted Bur Oaks in Cameron City Park, Orchard Park, and Wilson-Ledbetter Park to promote native species to help the natural eco-system locally.

The tree-planting gang at Cameron City Park

Quite a few trees were lost in and around Cameron during the ice storm this year, so the chapter is making an effort to replace them. Any type of native oak tree is considered the most beneficial to the local eco-system. Native trees are more acclimated to the heat and drought conditions that are occurring fairly often. 

Planting in Orchard Park

In addition to planting the trees, the members removed the three Glossy Privets at Wilson-Ledbetter Park that had been girdled over a year ago. Girdling is a method to remove trees without herbicides to avoid harming other trees. Alan Rudd brought his chain saw and a trailer. He cut them down and the members and volunteers loaded all the branches on the trailer. They were removed and burned to prevent resprouting elsewhere.

Pondering a privet at Wilson-Ledbetter Park

Alan also planted an Eastern Redbud in the trunk of an old dead tree at Cameron City Park in an experiment to see if it will grow there and add some color to the park. Members have volunteered to keep all the trees watered on a weekly basis through the summer and early fall. We planted the trees in the manner recommended by our recent speaker from the A & M Forest Service. 

We plan to add more trees to Wilson-Ledbetter in the fall. 

Pollinators in Peril

by Alan E. Rudd

Photos by Michelle Lopez and Carolyn Henderson

The Rockdale Rotary Club was treated to an excellent presentation on Thursday, April 20 in celebration of the upcoming Earth Day. 

The science lesson started off with Keegan Nichols, a PhD candidate in the Entomology Dept at Texas A&M University. Mr. Nichols works and teaches at the Rangel Bee Lab on the A&M campus and his dissertation research concerns the ecology and genetics of honeybees in Saudi Arabia. Keegan presented the big picture of just how many native bee species there are in Texas and how European honeybees have integrated into the North American insect world since they were brought over by colonists in the 1600’s. I am not even going to try to convey the depth of knowledge that this future professor displayed in a 20-minute slot, but our Chapter President astutely asked him to come to Cameron and teach for the entire El Camino Real crew in the near future.

Keegan Nichols, from Texas &M, talks about bees

Carolyn Henderson took over the show where Mr. Nichols left off and utilized a question-and-answer format that queried the audience with “did you know this about bees?”  She started off with easy questions then (as a former Jr High teacher is wont to do) moved onto the harder trivia to make us think. The group ended off this segment considering the factoid that “garlic planted in a garden repels bees.”  Surely not even Italian bees?

El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists and attendees

Donna Lewis was the next El Camino Real Master Naturalist to take the stage and presented a Master Gardener’s view of how to garden for the benefit of pollinators. The photos and information slides flowed seamlessly the entire day as Michele Lopez ran the PowerPoint for Donna and Keegan Nichols.  Donna’s well-polished speaking skills and screen graphics showed the use of native plants in a yard environment and how we can create an oasis for insects and birds.

Donna Lewis discusses her information

Batting clean-up for the El Camino Real Team was switch-hitter Jackie Thornton. She presented “show and tell” items for bee watering stations and masonry bee nesting habitats that can be made by hand. I never fail to be impressed with every one of our ECRMN members that have worked as professional educators. Jackie was in full “Principal Mode,” demonstrating these things to get young people involved and excited about science and the natural world.  She also showed her love of education by encouraging the adults in the audience to read several authors whose books she had on display.

Attendees enjoy the door prizes

I got to attend this event because work was delayed due to rain, but Catherine Johnson, Sandy Dworaczyk, and Don Travis also showed up to support the speakers and represent our chapter.  The Rockdale Rotary Club was welcoming and the hospitality at the Patterson Community Center is representative of what makes Milam County such a special place. The Bird and Bee farm donated jars of Honey that were the prime door prizes, and with their usual good luck Catherine and Sandy won flowers and artwork in the drawing.

It was a fun day!

Dorothy Saves the Day at the Wildscape

by Catherine Johnson

While we were hiking Mother Neff State Park, Patricia Coombs was coordinating chores at the Wildscape for the monthly workday.

The day became warm and bending over to plant resulted in Patricia becoming ill.  Dorothy Mayer and her daughter, Traci, were there working as well. Dorothy poured water over Patricia’s head and cared for Traci after she was stung by something.

Dorothy Mayer taking charge

Much pruning was done and two flats of Mexican Hat and Black-eyed Susan were planted, plus a bed prepared for Texas wildflowers.  Dorothy brought the workday to a successful end.

Traci survived the sting.

Note that we have a bunch of blogs to upload, because our blogging team (of one person) has been having computer issues then had the nerve to go camping. At least she did a lot of iNaturalist observations while she was there. Apologies that our blog entries weren’t entered in a timely manner.